Kenya loses 4 billion U.S. dollars annually due to road traffic fatalities, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Friday.
WHO Kenya Country Representative Dr Custodia Mandlhate told journalists in Nairobi that the east African country loses an equivalent of five percent of its overall national wealth as a result of traffic accidents.
"Traffic crashes especially those involving motorcycles have increased noticeably and are putting a high burden on families, communities, society and the health system to the tune of four billion dollars every year," Mandlhate said during the launch of the Social Marketing Campaign on Motorcycle helmet use in Nairobi.
The campaign is being spearheaded by WHO and the Kenyan government in order to raise awareness on the consequences of failing to wear a helmet and help boost helmet use among all riders and their passengers in order to reduce loss of lives.
She added that road traffic injuries have become an important public health concern in many parts of the world, including Kenya.
The WHO representative said that according to a recent survey, Kenya ranked highest in the number of traffic compared to 12 other African states. She also lamented the low rate of helmet use by motorcycle riders and passengers.
"A study on motorcycle riders habits in central and Rift Valley indicated that less than one third of riders use helmets," she added.
"Yet it has been proven that correct use of motorcycle helmets have been shown to decrease the risk and severity of injuries by about 72 percent and decreases likelihood of death by up to 40 percent," Mandlhate said.
She added that the next meeting of all ministers of health of the WHO Africa Region in late November will adopt measures to assist member states to accelerate the prevention and control of Non Communicable Diseases including traffic related deaths.
She commended government efforts for reviewing and revising its motorcycle helmet standards to be in line with international standards.
Police Traffic Commandant Benson Kibui said that the national awareness campaign will be coupled with enhanced enforcement of traffic legislations by the law enforcing agencies in order to synergize operation.
"Kenya has already amended laws to the Traffic Act in order to stiffen penalties for those riding motorcycles without helmets," Kibui said. He urged all riders to desist from carrying more than one passenger at a time as it is illegal to do so.
Kibui noted that in the last six years, the number of registered motorcycles in Kenya has increased almost 40 times and in 2011 they accounted for 70 percent of all newly registered vehicles.
The police department said that in 2011, a total of 582 cases of motorcycle crashes were recorded, which represented more than seven percent of all road traffic crashes.
Minister of Health Beth Mugo said that campaign is part of the Road Safety project taking place in ten select countries with funding from the Bloomberg Foundation.
Mugo added that in Kenya, more than 3,000 people die every year as a result of road traffic injuries.
"Of these approximately, seven percent are motorcycle riders, which represents a five-fold increase over the last five years," he said.
"Besides these deaths, hundreds of thousands are seriously injured and some end up suffering long term impairments," she said.
Ministry of Health Head of Division of Disease Control Dr Willis Akhwale said that wearing a helmet is the minimum one should and can do to protect oneself from injuries, deaths and potential fines
Akhwale said that most public health facilities have wards that accommodate motorcycle crash victims. He noted that up to 75 percent of motorcycle riders do not put on reflective clothing or have their head lamps on as required by the law.
Ministry of Health Head of Division of Non Communicable Disease Dr Waihenya Mwangi said that road traffic crashes cause grief and suffering because victims are often young, leaving families to cope with the loss of a bread winner.
Mwangi noted between seven to ten percent of all those in surgical wards of public hospitals are injured in motorcycle accidents. "The government has already begun the installation of cameras on major roads in order to enforce speed limits," he said.